Examining Marc Staal and his role on Broadway
When the New York Rangers selected Marc Staal with the 12th overall pick in the 2005 draft, there were high hopes and expectations that he would become a cornerstone defenseman for the Blueshirts for many years. And while Staal is still a member of the Rangers preparing for his 13th NHL season on Broadway, injuries, as well as an emphasis on a speed-based game across the league, have taken a toll on “Staalsy.”
Staal was born on January 13, 1987, in Thunder Bay, Ontario where he grew up playing pond hockey with his three brothers, two of which are still playing in the NHL for the Minnesota Wild (Eric Staal) and Carolina Hurricanes (Jordan Staal), respectively. Marc Staal played junior hockey for the Sudbury Wolves of the OHL from 2003-2007 as well as suiting up for Team Canada in the World Junior Championships in 2006 and 2007, bringing home gold medals at each tournament. Staal was also named as the top defenseman in the 2006 WJC.
Before making the jump to playing at the NHL in 2007, there were many Ranger fans and hockey analysts across North America that were excited to see the next iteration of a “Staal” brother enter the league. Eric Staal had just established himself as the face of the Carolina Hurricanes by potting 100 points in 2005-2006 and then 28 more points in 25 playoff games as the Canes won the Stanley Cup for the first time in the franchise’s history. Jordan Staal had just been drafted second overall by Pittsburgh and was looking to build off his excellent rookie campaign in 2006-2007. Due to the success of two of his brothers, Marc Staal was expected to make an immediate impact once he landed on Broadway.
After making the Rangers out of training camp in 2007, head coach Tom Renney utilized Staal in a defensive role to help the young blueliner acclimate to professional hockey. Staal recorded his first NHL point against the Washington Capitals on November 1, 2007, and scored his first career NHL goal 13 days later after beating Marty Brodeur glove side with a wrist shot from the left circle. Staal suited up for 80 games in 2007-2008, recording a modest ten points but establishing himself as a presence on the Rangers back end, where he still is today.
As the years went by and Staal began to mature and develop, he found himself a spot on the Rangers top defensive pair, as well as being given the ”A” at age 23, while partnering with Michal Rozsival or Dan Girardi. The 6’4”, 213-pound blueliner started to truly flourish in the 2010-2011 campaign as a 200-foot player that was willing to do whatever coach John Tortorella asked of him. However, that 2010-2011 season may have been the beginning of the end for Staal before anybody even realized it. Although Staal recorded a career-high 29 points during his 4th season on Broadway, it was later revealed that Staal suffered a concussion during a mid-season game against the Carolina Hurricanes, by none other than his brother: Eric Staal.
After Marc Staal was forced to miss the first half of the 2011-2012 campaign due to this injury, Ryan McDonagh took the reigns as the Rangers first-pairing LHD. Even after Staal memorably returned for the Rangers pivotal Winter Classic matchup against the Flyers, he struggled to play at the same level on both ends of the rink that he had played at before his unfortunate concussion.
Following a partial-lockout that cost the NHL the first half of the 2012-2013 regular season, Staal was finally back to full health and ready to compete again for the Blueshirts, as the team had acquired Rick Nash in the summer of 2012 in hopes of a Stanley Cup run. Staal recorded 11 points in his first 21 games of the 2013 NHL regular season and was playing some of the best hockey of his career – and then he got injured again. And if you think being concussed by your brother is bad enough, then take a look at this horrific injury. Even the Flyers players on the ice knew this situation was difficult and were calling for medical attention immediately as Staal squirmed around the ice in pain, covering his right eye.
Staal has never been the same player since the severe eye injury he experienced on March 5, 2013. He returned for one playoff game that spring while wearing a special visor, but it was clear that he was still not ready to play.
Staal was part of a successful 2014 Rangers team that made a miraculous and inspirational run to the Stanley Cup Final, as Staal saw second pair minutes with the underrated Anton Stralman. At the time, Rangers management believed that they had the pieces in place to win a Stanley Cup the following season, which coincidentally was the final year of the five-year contract that Staal signed as an RFA in 2010. While the Rangers dominated the 2014-2015 regular season en route to a President’s Trophy, there were many questions about Staal’s future in New York. All of those questions were answered when the Rangers inked Staal to a six-year, $34.2M contract with a full NMC on January 18, 2015.
As the NHL has progressed over the years into teams dominating based on speed, the slow, rugged Staal has seen his game fall off a cliff in recent years. Despite this, the Rangers have remained loyal to Staal and have chosen not to buyout his albatross of a contract even after being given multiple opportunities to do so. Following the buyout of defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk this summer, it’s clear that Staal is going to finish out his contract in the Big Apple.
How Staal Helps The Rangers Now
The reason that Marc Staal is still on the Rangers is because of his contract. He is no longer the player he once was on the ice. In fact, he’s very far from it. Staal often fails to keep up with the pace of play in the modern-day NHL and can be viewed as a liability in his own end while providing little to no offense at the other end of the rink.
All of that being said, “Staalsy” is still under contract with the Blueshirts for two more seasons and may help to serve in a mentor-like role for the organization’s younger defensemen such as Adam Fox, Libor Hajek, Tony DeAngelo, Ryan Lindgren, and even Brady Skjei. Staal has been around for some of the best and worst times in New York, from the experience of nearly capturing the Stanley Cup in 2014 to the organization committing to a full-blown rebuild in February of 2018, to every injury or shred of adversity he’s had to overcome throughout his tenured career as a Blueshirt. His 840 career games give him more experience than any other player on the Rangers, not named Henrik Lundqvist, who has played in 857 games for the Blueshirts. Staal may not be able to play the way he once did, and after evaluating his injury history and style of play, it seems somewhat likely that Staal will retire after his current contract expires.
The Rangers are indeed a young team, and the calming presence of an experienced veteran like Staal will benefit the Blueshirts off-ice and locker room dynamic while setting an example of hard work and dedication to the youngsters looking to acclimate to the lifestyle of a professional hockey player.